New Zealand authorities have begun the process of retrieving the bodies of the remaining victims of the tragic volcanic eruption on New Zealand’s White Island.
The retrieval has proven to be an extremely high-risk operation, with military and police specialists forced to wear breathing gear and protective clothing and scientists warning that gasses on the island are so toxic that a single breath could be fatal, according to ABC News.
On Wednesday, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the island is an “unpredictable and rapidly changing environment” and police minister Stuard Nash said authorities had to carefully consider safety risks to ensure rescuers landing on the island could do so safely.
The operation began at 10:30am local time and took around half an hour to prepare six of the eight bodies and fly them to a nearby ship.
According to Police commissioner Mike Bush, one of the two remaining bodies is thought to be in the water but bad weather prevented rescuers from approaching it today, the Guardian reported.
It is not yet known where the last body is.
New Zealand Police posted a Tweet this morning confirming the operation was going to plan but it was taking longer than expected due to the protective equipment rescuers had to wear.
The operation is taking more time than expected, this is due to the protective equipment the recovery team is wearing which can be restrictive and heavy but is necessary.
Conditions for the operation are good in regard to the weather, sea state and the environment on the island.
— New Zealand Police (@nzpolice) December 12, 2019
Yesterday the death toll of the eruption climbed to eight, including seven Australians, but that number is expected to rise as the bodies retrieved today are identified.
A total of 47, including 24 Australians, were on White Island, or Whakaari, as part of a shore excursion for Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas when a volcanic eruption occurred. Seven of the 24 have been confirmed dead with the remainder either in critical conditions suffering from severe burns or unaccounted for.
The process of transferring 10 of the critically injured Australians to hospitals in New South Wales and Victoria began yesterday.